Those of us having a direct tap in our kitchen cannot fathom the hardships of having to walk miles, just for a bucket of water. Bundelkhand, a geographical location divided between the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, is one of the aridest regions in the northern part of the country. With mostly women shouldering the responsibility of arranging water from distant areas and no immediate relief in sight, scores of them took matters into their own hands. Showing tremendous grit, these Jal Sahelis restored over 100 ponds, in the Bundelkhand region, an otherwise severely dehydrated land.
In Chhatarpur, Bundelkhand, a 39-year-old lady named Sirkoo, had to walk 8 kilometres daily to fetch water for the household. It was her responsibility to see to the daily demand for this essential commodity. But the intense walking regime started to take a toll on her already depleting health, not to mention the time, the whole exercise consumed. Rainfall was on a downward trend every passing year and water scarcity soon became the foremost complication in the lives of the villagers with women facing the brunt of the crises.
How Jal Sahelis started the revival of water sources
One fine day, Sirkoo decided to tackle the problem of water scarcity head-on. She along with few other women came together to form an informal water committee named ‘Pani Panchayat’ and decided to work towards the water issues that affected them the most. With the belief that water should be available to all as a basic right, they had a very simple and focused agenda of the creation and conservation of water resources in their villages.
With the help of an NGO called, Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, they started taking steps in this direction. Jal Sahelis, nominated by the Pani Panchayat would meet and decide how to revive a dying pond in the village or which location was best suited for a hand pump. Over the period of time, their movement grew stronger and now there are more than 1000 Jal Sahelis distributed across 7 districts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh who ensure their voice reaches the state-level officials. Dressed in blue saris, as a symbol of water, Jal Sahelis have laboured to built check dams for irrigation and revived umpteen village ponds in Bundelkhand.
Role of Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan
During the Covid lockdown, Indian cities saw a mass exodus of migrant workers, who in the face of job loss, travelled back to their native. Bundelkhand too witnessed many of its own returning, in search of work. With a presence in 450 villages in the region, the NGO, Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, set a beautiful example by organizing camps that provided food against their labour. The NGO channelized the energy of the return migrants into the redevelopment of water resources. Under the guidance of Pani panchayat and Jal Sahelis, thousands of ponds were constructed. On one hand, the needy were provided food for their hard labour, while on the other, lakes, ponds and other water resources were developed or brought back to life, for the conservation of water in the Bundelkhand region.
Picture this!! The rivers and water bodies have dried. You open a tap and find no water. The prices of all commodities are looking up. You have to either walk miles or pay a hefty sum for a bucket of water.
The mere thought of it is scary. It is easy to delude ourselves into believing that we will never face this. But, the fact is that if we continue to live the way we do, this scene is not far away. But programs like Jal Sahelis give us hope and inspiration to conserve water at every level possible.
Signing off now, stay tuned for similar information about events, which gives us hope of a better world for our future generations. See you all in our next episode.
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